Disclosure: Most of the companies mentioned are clients of the author.
The videoconferencing industry tends to go through 10-year cycles; companies jump in, spend a ton of money, and then exit the market disappointed. This, however, is the first time that cycle happened during a pandemic, forcing a level of development that pushed players like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco Webex to quickly evolve.
All three offerings look vastly different than before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in 2020.
This week, Cisco showcased its Webex Legislate offering for Davra (one of its partners) and how it is safely streamlining remote government conclaves and voting. (This government-focused Webex variant, unveiled last October, is also being used by an increasing number of corporate boards for the same reason.) It shows promise for any group that requires debate followed by voting — including councils, clubs, activist organizations, and stockholder meetings.
Let’s talk about what could be the next phase of collaborative innovation, a focused videoconferencing offering.
The product cycle
Products typically go through a cycle where at first they’re a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. Then they expand to targeted efforts focused on buyers delineated by sex, age, or other differences — depending on the product and the market diversity.
Videoconferencing has never really gotten beyond that first one-size-fits-all approach; whether vendors target small businesses or big enterprises, the answer remains the same. (The old HP Halo did offer a specific version for DreamWorks that involved a wall-sized display that effectively extended the conference room visually to another remote location. But it was more of a one-off, and when HP divested Halo, the concept largely vanished.)
The main reason videoconferencing products routinely failed, beyond something (like a pandemic) that forced their use, is simple: they required users to change what they do. But Webex Legislate conforms to user needs, not the other way around, becoming a critical part of how they get things done.
The next evolution?
The next logical step for videoconferencing could be focused products like Webex Legislate that eventually lead to reconfigured options for focused tasks.
What kind of options? You’d first select an option for a meeting, delineating the type of meeting it will be — one to many, collaborative with or without voting, etc. The system would then configure itself for the event based on what the user needs.
I can imagine configurations optimized for engineers, animators, managers, and organizations such as HR, finance, legal, and operations. For example, compliance concerns would play a role in legal, HR, and healthcare-related meetings. Marketers might need to integrate external organizations such as ad agencies; the movie industry might want some way to create real-time images of the content they’re discussing.
I can also imagine AI being used to automatically select meeting tools, choose attendees, and even render, in real-time, what’s being discussed if that were appropriate. Answering a few initial questions could not only optimize the experience but suggest a time based on suggested attendees’ calendars, institute policy-driven security controls, and even recommend staging, such as camera placement. Part of this evolution would include features such as embedded teleprompters for speakers.
While videoconferencing struggled to build critical mass for decades, the pandemic drove a level of usage that is unprecedented. And the need for quality, useful and usable videoconference solutions is, in turn, driving the creation of focused variants for areas like litigation (courts), legislative sessions, board meetings, and education. As those targeted variants evolve further, they can better adapt to user needs. Eventually the tool may just look at your calendar and, knowing what you do, automatically select a video configuration most appropriate for your event.
Once we get to that final step, integration into our daily activities will be fully realized, overcoming the market’s cyclical nature. Better yet: you won’t need to go to a physical meeting in your building, let alone fly to one halfway around the world.